The Public School Forum of NC‘s 8th annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast event, which live streamed on Thursday, February 17 to over 500 registrants, featured a brief presentation of the Top Education Issues by the Forum’s President/Executive Director, Dr. Mary Ann Wolf, and the Forum’s Senior Director of Policy, Dr. Lauren Fox. The report revealed ten key education issues, including the lack of progress made with early care and education, subsidies and reimbursement rates.
Within the top education issues:
- NC met or exceeded the success criteria for expanding the NC Teaching Fellows program, removing any punitive measures connected with high stakes testing, and the College Advising Corp.
- Significant progress has been made on broadband access, principal preparation and recruitment, and the new social studies curriculum.
- Minimal progress has been made on teacher recruitment and salaries, social and emotional learning supports, and afterschool programs and expanded learning.
- No progress has been made on amending state requirements for teaching licensure, professional learning on culturally responsive curriculum, flexibility for local school districts, revising the A-F school grading system, early childhood education, expansion of the NC Community College System Career Coaches Program, and post-secondary district flexibility in establishing calendars for their community.
Since our priority is early childhood, we examined the early childhood metric a little more closely:
The funding and implementation of a new child care subsidy rate structure that provides child care programs in all 100 counties with adequate and equitable rates that incorporate the true cost of care, including workforce compensation and benefits.
The FY 2021-23 budget makes no changes to the child care subsidy rate. Only 22% of children aged 0-5 who are eligible receive child care subsidy assistance, and the amount of subsidy assistance provided is not enough to fully cover the true cost of high-quality care, including adequate pay and benefits for providers.
Following the presentation, there were two interactive discussions addressing elements of the Forum’s Progress Report on Top Education Issues for 2021-22.
“At the Forum, we certainly recognize that pre-kindergarten through 12 education is part of a critical ecosystem that connects with early childhood, post-secondary opportunities, and the workforce,” said Wolf. “But sometimes we don’t lift up the connection that our education system is for every person in North Carolina.”
Investments in PreK-12 Education are Key
Discussion 1 focused on PreK-12 Education as the Foundation for NC’s Workforce, Economy and Civic Engagement with Emma Battle, of Higher Ed Works; JB Buxton, Durham Tech Community College; Renee Cavan, Truist; Eugenia Floyd, 2021 NC Teacher of the Year; Dale Jenkins, Curi (Retired); and Joshua Webb, Edgecombe Early College High School.
All panelists reiterated the need for routine investments of the people, places, and programs where our communities learn.
There was emphasis on the need for starting at the beginning, “It all starts with a strong investment in early childhood education so that every four-year-old will be proficient in third grade reading. Many studies have shown that third grade reading proficiency is a key indicator of future academic success in college readiness,” said Battle. “A 15-year Duke University study of more than one million students found that participation in North Carolina’s pre-kindergarten resulted in improved math and reading scores, reduce placement in a special education, and reduce probability of repeating grades, at least through eighth grade. Knowing this, North Carolina needs to make the investments to ensure that every child has access to high quality early childhood education.”
While North Carolina once ranked first in the nation in pre-kindergarten quality, the latest U.S. News & World Report shows its ranking has fallen. Furthermore, enrollment in preschool is significantly lower, as well, sitting at 27 among 44 states that provide pre-kindergarten. Due to inconsistent state funding, many North Carolina counties struggle to offer pre-kindergarten programs. Many of North Carolina’s counties find it challenging to hire qualified teachers, pay transportation costs, or find classroom space.
“You’re either going to invest in great people, learning environments, and technologies that our teachers, principals and ultimately our students need to succeed,” Buxton said in response to the debate about where we should invest. “These are ongoing systemic investments. We don’t wait for better times to make the investments we think we need.”
A Crisis in the Education Workforce
Discussion 2 focused on the Workforce Crisis within Education with Elena Ashburn, 2021 NC Principal of the Year; Sen. Deanna Ballard, NC General Assembly; Jennie Bryan, 2021 Southeast Regional Teacher of the Year; Rep. Ashton Clemmons, NC General Assembly; Debra Derr, NC Chamber; Lisa Eads, NC Community Colleges; Deanna Townsend-Smith, NC State Board of Education; Liliana Soto, Vance County Schools; Kathy Spencer, Southeast Education Alliance; and Tre Woods, NC Teacher Cadet.
This discussion focused on low teacher pay, the difficulties in finding teachers to recruit to the field, vitriol directed towards teachers, and Bryan even noted the high cost and scarcity of child care slots, which teachers cannot afford.
Did you miss the event? You can watch it for yourself on YouTube online.